Obama has made his final appointments to his controversial council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In the FundamentaList today, Sarah Posner summarizes what it means for reproductive rights:

With his council appointments now complete, Obama has given far more seats on his council to religious leaders who are anti-choice than to ones who are openly pro-choice, even though the majority of Americans favor legal abortion. There are only two pro-choicers, and they're both Jewish. Reproductive-health advocates suggested several pro-choice Christians to the White House as worthy additions to the council. By not giving them seats, though, the administration shows that it is too afraid to challenge anti-choice evangelicals by putting their pro-choice brothers and sisters at the same table.

Frances Kissling also points out that the appointments aren't just predominantly anti-choice -- they're also mostly men. Five of the council members recently signed on to a letter asking Obama not to overturn the Bush administration's HHS policy allowing health care providers to deny services (such as contraception) based on their personal beliefs.

I agree with folks who argue that religious groups can be providers of essential services without proselytizing or stepping on the rights of others. But Bush's legacy is strong. He primarily used "Faith-Based Initiatives" as a way to pander to his base politically -- not to actually provide more services to more people in need. And he supported many of these faith-based groups' decisions to hire only people of their religion or to maintain discriminatory policies
toward LGBTQ people. Obama's actions are looking all too familiar.

Obama's council appointments, much like his other partnerships with religious leaders,
been disturbingly Bush-like. By and large, the appointees are not
people with a proven record of providing services without blurring the
church/state boundary. They are political choices to signal that Obama
is willing to reach across the aisle on issues like reproductive
rights. As
Posner and Kissling both note, Obama clearly sees the council as a
opportunity to prove he's a centrist. Posner says,

The effort has largely been a bust, though, as those centrists now say they are dismayed
by his policies. They can express disappointment, but they should not
have been surprised by his reversal of the global gag rule, the Bush
midnight-hour "provider conscience" rule, and the ban on federal
funding for stem-cell research. Obama was clear on his views on these
issues during the campaign, and he won anyway.

He's stacking the council with anti-choice men (and failing to
challenge screwed-up Bush-era policies) as a political gesture, but he
isn't actually appeasing any right-wingers. So why bother? I know there
are faith leaders out there who are serious about providing services to
those in need, and who aren't anti-woman or anti-gay -- why didn't
Obama make them the majority of his appointments? If he wanted to make
a point about maintaining a dialogue with those he disagrees with, he
still could have appointed one or two fundamentalists. But the
conservative-dominated council as it stands now is pretty damn
annoying, to say the least.

--Ann Friedman

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